January 18, 2017
Step 1: Find a real need
I need something (or think I need something) and you provide it. Whether that’s a product or service doesn’t really matter. The crux of it is that I’m willing to part with my hard-earned money for the thing that you’ve created.
So it makes sense that at the core of all great business ideas is a need. The greater the need, the more successful the company.
Here’s a few ways to find that need.
Ask what bothers you. And then find a better way to do it.
Back before they made software, 37Signals—the company behind project management tool Basecamp—was a design firm with a problem. They needed a simple way to communicate with clients about their projects, but there were no good options available.
So they made their own.
Kent Plunkett needed to hire a secretary but had no idea what it should cost. So he built Salary.com, now the world’s largest compensation information database (which he took public in 2007 at a valuation of $175m!)
Why is it so important to work on a problem you have? Among other things, it ensures the problem really exists. It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.— Paul Graham
Better yet, you already know your target audience: you.
Use Beginner's Mind to uncover missed opportunities.
We assume that because something happened one way, or didn’t work in the past, that it will do the same in the future.
In his classic 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, author Thomas Kuhn argued that people who achieve “fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have either been very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change”.
Unique ideas come when you don't know the conventions of an industry.
But what if you’re already experienced in the field that you want to start your business in? (As you probably should be)
One option is to try to enter what Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki calls Beginner’s Mind:
"In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few." — Shunryu Suzuki
Just like Edwin Land's daughter, ask ‘why not?’
Amazon CTO Werner Vogels calls this Working Backwards—get your face out of the details and the nitty gritty and look at your project with new eyes.
Because you know who else is a beginner? Your customers. Get in their head and you're sure to have the start of a winning idea.